So far it has received 100 applications from the public after advertising in regional newspapers for "lay members of inspection teams", a carefully-chosen wording indicating they will not be lay inspectors.
Unions refused to co-operate with a pilot project of lay involvement in inspections, which meant that it operated in only two schools. To avoid hostility to the scheme, the department has opted for minimal lay participation.
A spokesperson said the lay people would not be judging professional matters, but only "common sense" issues such as arrangements for supervising children, communications between school and home and facilities for drying wet coats.
They will pass their comments to the reporting inspector, who may include them in the final report.
The system has been modelled on the Scottish one rather than the English and Welsh scheme where lay people are full members of teams.
To emphasise the difference, the Northern Irish volunteers will not be paid fees for their work, only travel and subsistence expenses, and they will only be invited to join general inspections in large schools. The department says that lay people may be involved in as few as 20 inspections in the coming year.